You Can Make Video Games

No, really, you can! Well, probably. I hope so anyway. That’s what I’m going to write about, so let’s just pretend I’m correct for the sake of argument. If you’re interested in making video games and are not doing so already, you’ve probably built up a bunch of reasons in your head for not being able to make games.

The obvious one is that requires a lot of programming and that’s very hard work. Let me tell you now that I’m a terrible coder - so if I can somehow put a game together, so can you. The tools to make games have become so simple over the past few years that pretty much anyone who has a basic grasp of logic can find a tool that works for them.

Maybe you’re telling yourself that you’re more an ideas guy. You need to pass the amazing golden ideas you’re coming up with to someone else, and they can turn them into a game for you. So let me tell you now: if you’re just an ideas guy then forget it, you’re absolutely nothing. Your games ideas are almost entirely worthless, because I think I’d be overvaluing ideas if I said they were a dime a dozen.

Most people who work with games have a ton of ideas they’d love to get made. What makes your games unique, what makes them real is your implementation. It’s how you take your idea and all the decisions you make along the way as you turn it into an actual game.

So forget all that. Forget that it’s too hard, forget that you need other people. The only thing stopping you from making games right now is you.

THE 5 NEWBIE TIPS

Let me give you a few key pieces of advice to help you get started:

TIP #1 Don't waste money

Don’t go out looking for software and books to buy, thinking that the more stuff you buy the better equipped you’ll be to make games. All the software and information you’re going to need to make games is available on the internet for free. You don’t need to spend any money - it won’t give you a leg up. All you need is self-motivation, and money can’t buy you that.

TIP #2 Don't form teams

This seems an obvious thing to do and it’s a path universities will certainly push you towards. A lot of people get into the mentality that you need a coder, an artist, a musician and a designer. However, if you want to get started making games, you should start with something that plays to your strengths and doesn’t require a whole team. Sure, if you’ve got a close mate you want to work with that’s great - but don’t go on a recruitment drive. There are ways to cover for all the skills you’re lacking. That way you can start learning how to make games before you have to deal with how much of a bitch team management can be.

TIP #3 Tiny scope

When you’re starting out, try to focus on the simplest game idea you can come up with. A single idea, a single gameplay mechanic you want to play with or a single scene between a few characters. You need to be at your most humble and find the most basic idea that you can still get excited about experimenting with. Don’t try to make the next World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. You need to forget about that epic project you’ve been mulling over for years. I’m sure you’ve got a masterpiece brewing in your head, but trying to make that right out of the gate will be a huge disaster. Even if you finished it, which you probably wouldn’t, it would be a mess. You need to come back to that later, once you’ve got some experience and have a better idea what you’re doing.

TIP #4 They’re not all Braid

Don’t feel under pressure to make your first game into an amazingly original, clever, quirky breakthrough in video game design, or something that nobody has ever seen before. You can just pick a game genre that you love and have a go at it. Whatever you make will be infused with your own style from how you interpret that genre - and that’s enough. Agonising over the first step because of the belief that it has to be brilliant can stop you from ever making anything.

TIP #5 Ditch the design document

You don’t need a 20 page epic bible all about how your game is going to work. I believe the best approach is almost always to try and get something playable in a rough form as quickly as you possibly can. Once you can start playing your game and experimenting with how you can change it you are going to find a lot more ideas begin to flow. They’ll be better ideas than you’ll come up with staring a word processor trying to imagine in your head how the game will play.

Iterating over your game through lots of different builds where you play with ideas and find out what does and doesn’t work for you is going to teach you more about game design than any well formatted design document, any number of lectures or books you can read on the subject. In fact, let me give you the single most important lesson in game design you will ever hear:

GAME DESIGN 101

1. There are no rules to game design!

It’s definitely worth reading up online to see what other people have to say about game design. There are a lot of forums, articles and video lectures on the topic and understanding what people have to say and why they’ve come to their opinions on the topic is helpful in understanding what’s important to you. However you shouldn’t get it into your head there are universal principles you need to follow. Even for some of the most basic design rules (games should be fun, accessible, completable or fair) I’ve always found games that break that rule and are still amazing works.

I feel the most important thing about making games is that they’re a way to express yourself to an audience. If you can learn to ignore the advice you don’t agree with and embrace what appeals to you then you’re going to be able to find your own voice and the games you make will be distinctly yours. Don’t make what other people might want or expect you to make, make something for yourself. If you fail... who cares? At least you tried to do something you wanted.

My advice is no exception to this. They say all advice is autobiographical. The stuff I’m telling you are the things I wish someone had told me back when I was getting started. It would have saved me years I threw away on dead end projects. If you want to ignore what I’ve said and go your own path then good on ya’! I wish you all the best and hope you can succeed where I failed many times.

Tools

I mentioned earlier that it’s easy to make games these days so check out the tools section for what you can use to achieve this.

Resources

I said that you shouldn’t go on a recruitment drive - so you might be worried about how you’re going to provide the assets for your game if you’re not a good artist or musician. Check out the resources section for advice and links to free tools and sites you can use.


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